New Hampshire Under Siege

Our Town

Would you choose occasional insanity -- or the institutional kind?

By 11.16.04

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BOSTON -- The other night on our way to the Fenway AMC multiplex in Boston my wife and I walked past a 252-foot-long billboard that read, "Welcome to Massachusetts. You're more likely to live here. Most effective gun laws and lowest gun fatality rate in the country. Gun laws work."

"Yeah, I'm sure I'm much safer in Boston right now than in New Hampshire," I said. The claim was all the more galling considering the billboard was just around the corner from where 21-year-old Victoria Snelgrove was shot dead by police with a "non-lethal" weapon last month while celebrating a Red Sox win.

"What about those parents who just tried to sacrifice their kids in your hometown?" my wife asked.

It's true, for the umpteenth time in the last two years, my hometown made national news. Last Wednesday, police, working on a tip, entered the Saint Mary Church in Rochester, NH, where they found Nicole Mancini in her pajamas along with her boyfriend, John Thurber, and her three children. Police say the couple was preparing to sacrifice one of the children on the altar.

So my wife had a point. Still, I wracked my brain for a "but," because there is always a "but" when you're married. It's an unwritten rule.

"But," I said, "there was no actual sacrifice."

In my mind's eye I began planning the billboard I would some day bring to the Granite State. It would read something along these lines: "Welcome to New Hampshire. You're more likely to live here. Most effective anti-sacrifice laws and lowest pagan sacrifice fatality rate in the country. Anti-sacrifice laws work."

The whole incident sure doesn't help our reputation nationwide. Rochester still hasn't lived down being home of one of the alleged molesting Catholic priests in the scandal two years ago. Coincidentally, the former priest was my high school Latin teacher for three years, and while he certainly used some uncouth language and had a weird habit of rubbing my shoulders, he was nevertheless one of my favorite teachers. I still remember vividly the shock of coming across his file two years ago while sorting through records released by the state AG, and trying to make sense of the good and evil that can coexist in a single man.

Anyway, last night one of my friends who still lives in town called me up. In the wake of the near sacrifice people where he works kept asking him why our town was so messed up.

"I don't know what to tell them," he said.

"Tell them to stop being such sissies," I said. "There wasn't actually a sacrifice. Tell them a small minority of people in Rochester might be drunk fighting in the streets every weekend, but they don't sacrifice their children." Then I told him about my billboard, which might help clear up the issue. He didn't seem too keen on it. This sort of long uncomfortable silence following the presentation of my latest idea has become my lot in life.

"It's still a nice quiet place to live, even if molesting priests, presidential candidates, and parents trying to sacrifice their children keep landing it on CNN," I said finally.

The press is always looking for an oddball story, as it should be. Bored by the mundane violence of everyday life in more progressive states, its scribes invariably find the bad things happening in small town America a much more interesting storyline. In fact, the evil lurking beneath the veneer of these towns has been a mainstay of literature and cinema for decades now. City dwellers and the cultural elite, when faced with the ugliness in their otherwise urbane mini-societies often facilitated by the very policies they promised would bring utopia, seem to gleefully embrace the idea that the REAL horror is actually in the places they love to visit, but could never -- sniff, sniff -- live.

New Hampshire sets an example particularly despicable to these folks. A good, solid economy without a sales or income tax. (Even Democrats are forced to run against taxes in New Hampshire. The Democrat who unseated the Republican governor actually had signs that promised "NO SALES TAX. NO INCOME TAX.") We have low crime rates without draconian gun laws. We put a premium on personal freedom and responsibility in areas where our neighbors in Vermont and Massachusetts constantly legislate what's in the best interests of the collective, comrade. Still, life in New Hampshire works out just fine without the meddling of the do-gooder brigades, professional activists, and paid politicians. (Our legislators are paid $100 a year. Massachusetts has to pay its part-time legislators more than $50,000 a year to get them to serve.) And it vexes the do-gooders, who refuse to believe anyone can live without them, to no end.

Or maybe the country really just is truly concerned that our rate of nearly-sacrificed-at-an-altar-children is 100 percent higher than many other states. Somehow, I don't think that's it. Given the choice between occasional or institutional insanity, I won't need to spend a lot of time mulling which way to go.

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